OSHA announced March 13 the first in a series of industry-specific guidelines for preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. OSHA's Guidelines for Nursing Homes recommends ways that employers can reduce injuries by using methods successful in the nursing home environment.

OSHA makes two primary recommendations:

  • Minimize in all cases and eliminate when feasible the manual lifting of residents;

  • Employers should implement a systematic process for identifying and resolving ergonomics issues, and incorporate this process into its overall program to recognize and prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.

    The guidelines are divided into five sections:

    1) A Process for Protecting Workers recommends a process for addressing ergonomics that includes: providing management support; involving employees; identifying problems; implementing solutions; addressing reports of injuries; providing training; and evaluating ergonomics efforts.

    2) Identifying Problems and Implementing Solutions for Resident Lifting and Repositioning addresses issues employers should consider when analyzing resident lifting and repositioning tasks and implementing solutions. This section also presents 22 solutions employers may consider implementing for resident lifting and positioning tasks.

    3) Identifying Problems and Implementing Solutions for Activities Other than Resident Lifting and Repositioning presents the issues employers should consider when examining activities other than resident lifting and repositioning, as well as possible solutions.

    4) Training describes the training that should be received by charge nurses and supervisors, designated program managers, and nursing assistants and other workers at risk of injury.

    5) Additional Sources of Information describes tools and other guidelines employers may wish to consult to help them further address ergonomic concerns in their facilities. It also provides information on how to obtain the materials.

    OSHA chief John Henshaw emphasized that the guidelines are voluntary, and will not be enforced. But he said "OSHA does mean business" in lowering ergo-related injuries, and inspectors have been extensively trained to cite serious ergo hazards under the OSH Act's general duty clause.

    Next up, the agency is preparing industry-specific guidelines for the retail grocery store and poultry processing industries.

    Two more industries will soon be targeted for ergo guidelines, based on number of hazards and availability of proven solutions, according to Henshaw.

    Since the demise of its ergo standard, OSHA has embarked on a broad outreach and education effort. The agency currently has ten strategic partnerships with a focus on ergonomics. And it has signed 11 national ergonomics alliances. Alliance partners are working with OSHA on a variety of best practices for specific industries, including meatpacking, furniture making, electrical contracting, printing and "big box" mass retailing.

    OSHA chief Henshaw made more than 75 appearances on safety and health issues, including ergonomics, over the past year.

    The agency is developing a new recognition program, modeled after OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), to highlight the achievements of work sites with exemplary or novel approaches to ergonomics.

    Guidelines for nursing homes are available for downloading from OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov. A printed copy of the guidelines is also available from the OSHA Publications Office, Room N-3101, Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210, or by telephone at (800) 321-OSHA (6742). You may fax your request for a copy of the guidelines to (202) 693-2498.